I recently had the opportunity to see the film Embrace by Taryn Brumfitt of the Body Image Movement. Last year I had written a blog post based on the movie trailer, so I was very excited to finally see the entire film.
My biggest take-away from seeing the film is gratitude. As the filmmaker interviewed countless women from around the world about their body shame and pain, I cheered silent “Woo Hoo!”s to myself – for I am FREE! And quite honestly, I don’t think that I would be where I am today had it not been for the all of the pain and drama I suffered myself.
I like to say, “I’ve been there, done that, have the t-shirt and wrote the book – literally.” It was the writing of Happy Calories Don’t Count that was the true beginning of my freedom. And it was the reverse-engineering of my healing process (so that I could help others) that was the final step in my liberation.
I hope that Embrace does the same for Taryn. She is doing great work with the Body Image Movement. She is putting out wonderful messages. However, there is a strong chance that her message will not be accepted by the segment of the population who is in the most pain around their bodies. This is simply because of how she presents her points in the film.
In a nutshell, the film describes Taryn’s personal story of body shame and it follows her as she explores these issues with other women across the world. One of the major themes of the film is the cultural media environment that promotes unrealistic standards of beauty and the subsequent pressure this puts on women. Many of the women featured in the film had learned to accept (and embrace) their bodies as beautiful, despite being outside the cultural (unrealistic) “ideal.”
While there is no measure and no “contest” for body shame and pain – any amount is too much – my personal story and circumstances are quite different from Taryn’s. And I can tell you that there is a segment of women who are warring with their bodies because they believe that making peace with their bodies will mean that they will become – or stay stuck in – a size or shape that is distasteful to them. However, Taryn’s film does nothing to challenge that assumption or belief. Many of the women she featured in her film – including herself – described themselves as miserably unhappy while they dieted and exercised themselves down to a smaller dress size. And they said that it just wasn’t worth it – it wasn’t worth the sacrifice. So they just embraced their bodies at a larger size and now feel peace and freedom around food.
While I applaud anything that helps women feel peace and freedom around food, exercise and their bodies, every point and every comment made in the film comes from within the basic assumptions and framework of the “diet and exercise model” for weight loss and wellbeing. And because of this, I can say – without equivocation – that her message would not have helped The Me of Twenty Years Ago. The Me of Twenty Years Ago – and many women that I know today – do feel and believe that dieting and exercising is “worth the sacrifice.” (And I believe that it is because her film is still fundamentally based from within the “diet and exercise model,” it opened her up to the nasty shaming from the Internet trolls – albeit most trolls will be nasty for no reason at all.)
The real problem isn’t that “diet and exercise” isn’t worth the “sacrifice” to achieve an “unrealistic standard of beauty” created and perpetuated by the media. The real problems are that 1) the diet and exercise model fundamentally does not work (and causes dysfunctional relationships with food, exercise and our bodies) and 2) we lack basic media and marketing literacy skills.
To help explain what I mean I’m going to shift gears and use polio as an analogy. I know this might seem strange, but I’m very involved with Rotary – and along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International has almost eradicated polio from the world. In case you didn’t know, that’s a really big deal. Polio is a disease that has been around for thousands of years – even being depicted in ancient art – and now, except for in a couple of war zones aid workers can’t get to, polio is wiped out! How could this happen?? It happened by providing basic sanitation education and vaccines.
The overly photoshopped beauty and fashion industries are not the ultimate problem in creating poor body image and self-esteem among women. Even if they are the “virus” in my analogy, the problem is that we don’t have media and marketing literacy skills and self-esteem building strategies to act as the “vaccine.” We don’t need to “kill the germs.” Over-use of penicillin has just created more powerful “super germs.” What we need to do is build our immune systems. We need basic media and marketing literacy skills and we need self-esteem boosting tools and strategies.
Furthermore, we don’t need to buy into the assumptions and beliefs that making peace with our bodies will mean that we will end up stuck in a size or shape that we dislike. In fact, the truth is that making peace with your body is the key to creating a body and a life that you love! Your body knows how to create an optimized state of health, vitality and beauty – and it’s in your body’s best interest to be optimized! Your body is always whispering the path to you and as soon as you make peace with your body, you will be able to hear its wisdom and guidance.
It was a long, hard, painful and even life-threatening journey for me to get where I am today. But I am grateful for it. For my journey gave the freedom and peace around food, exercise and my body that I now have. Furthermore, I am looking (and feeling) better by embodying the Happy Calories Happy Exercise® principles – even as I age. (Who knew?? Now that calls for some gratitude!) And I’m grateful that I’ve been able to reverse-engineer my journey into a process that can help other women find this peace and joy – without having to go to the extremes I did. So basically, during this month of November I am embodying an attitude of gratitude.
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